Authors: B. A. Morton
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.
'Molly Brown' is published by Taylor Street Publishing LLC, who can be contacted at:
'Molly Brown' is the copyright of the author, B.A. Morton, 2012. All rights are reserved.
All characters are fictional, and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is accidental.
The child’s bedroom sat at the end of the hall, where the draft from the badly fitting front door and the
smell from the filthy bathroom mingled, filling the tiny space and creating an odor of neglect.
To call it a room was an exaggeration. It was little
more than a closet. If he’d stretched out his arms he could have touched each wall with ease. The ancient floral wallpaper was peeling, there was a growing pool of water around the decaying window frame, and a patch of black mold was flourishing like an indoor garden. Connell inhaled. He could almost feel the microscopic particles invading his lungs.
Within the miniscule space, a neatly made bed squeezed itself against the wall. The worn, patchwork comforter was tightly tucked between the sagging mattr
ess and frame. The stained pillow still bore the imprint of a small head. A badly painted closet half-blocked the tiny window, its door hanging from one hinge. Despite the lack of curtains, the room was dim, the morning sun struggling to make it through the grimy glass. He tried the light switch, and glancing up, realized the futility. An empty wire hung where the bulb should be.
The little space left was occupied by books, a whole bunch of books. Connell picked his way carefully between neat piles stacked knee-high on the wooden floor, unwilling to disturb the
arrangement. There was method to it, though he couldn’t quite grasp what it was. It took conscious thought to create order, and he needed to understand the order, because he needed to understand the mind that had arranged this sad tiny room.
e pulled open the closet door. There wasn’t much in it: a child’s winter coat with sleeves that had been let down, two pairs of jeans with holes in the knees and a selection of faded t-shirts. A shoe box on the floor held rolled up graying socks that had started life white. A pair of black school shoes lay neatly by the box, dusty and scuffed. He checked the size. They weren’t much bigger than his son, Joe’s, and Joe was a little kid.
Squatting down by the side of the bed
, he gently pulled back the cover. The sheet beneath was dirty, hadn’t been washed recently and gave off a sour odor. He lifted the pillow, found pink pajamas, similarly unclean and worn out, but folded neatly nevertheless. He sighed and felt an immense sadness deep inside. A child should be cherished. This child obviously was not.
ed inside the pajamas was a dog-eared paperback book -
The Wizard of Oz
. His sadness was joined by an inexplicable stirring of unease, as if something very strange and very bad had just whispered cold breath against his skin. Connell gave himself a shake. He was giving himself the creeps.
He stood and glanced around. For a ten year old, she was an advanced reader. Some of these books were pretty large and all seemed well read. There were no toys. No mess, just books.
How many books could a kid read? Judging by how many were crammed into the room, she must have read a book a week since she first learned how. This kid was starting to look a little odd.
Picking up the paperback, Connell opened it where it was marked by a homemade bookmark. Dorothy had just met the cowardly lion. He wondered briefly if that was significant
, then discarded the book and studied the strip of card. She’d written her name in elaborate script, colored it brightly with magic markers and edged the card with silver glitter. On the back she’d printed her name and address in small, neat, even letters and after her name, in brackets, she’d noted her age ten and one quarter. He smiled. He remembered being eight and a half. The half had been very important. He’d been four years behind his brother, couldn’t understand at the time how he would ever catch up. Maybe this kid wasn’t odd, maybe she just liked make believe. He got that. Sometimes the real world was all too real.
He replaced the bookmark and slipped the book inside his jacket. Stuffing his hands into the pockets of his pants, he stood in the center of the sad little room and wondered. The local
cops had been and gone; he knew because he’d sat outside in his car and waited for them to leave. They’d taken their statements and made up their minds and he’d a good idea what they’d thought when they’d seen the room. This whole situation was strange and a little weird. Ten year old girls didn’t just walk out the door and disappear, not without a very good reason.
tching a whiff of stale, sickly-sweet perfume he turned slowly and realized he wasn’t alone. The girl who hovered in the doorway was maybe fifteen or sixteen and trying to look older. Last night’s makeup overdone. Lashes clogged together, lip stick smeared comically and hair tousled. With a too short skirt, and a too low neckline, she attempted a ridiculously provocative pose.
“Hiya,” she slurred. “Who the hell are you?” She blinked slowly, eyelids heavy, more than a little hung over.
“One of the good guys,” replied Connell. He weighed her up and swallowed his dismay. Here was a kid headed for trouble.
“Oh yeah, we’re pretty short on good guys in this neighborhood. Why are you here?”
He shrugged, held her gaze and asked himself the same question. “Why do you think?”
“The cops have been and gone. They didn’t find anything. There was nothing to find.” She blinked again even more slowly than before and he thought for a moment that her
eyes weren’t going to re-open, that she’d fallen asleep in the doorway. He was about to reach out and prod her awake, when she pulled herself back with a start and remembered he was there. “You need to get out and look for her. She’s not here. She’s not hiding under the bed.”
Good point. He should have looked there first
, and would have done if she hadn’t interrupted him. “Does she do that often?” he asked, and the girl raised a quizzical brow and stifled a yawn. So, he was keeping her up - tough; she wasn’t the only one who’d had a rough night.
... do what?”
She was a little slow on the uptake. Her pupils were dilated and her movements deliberate and exaggerated. She scowled at him. He recognized teenage attitude when he saw it, along with the scent of marijuana.
, she didn’t. She’d no reason to hide. I told the cops all this already.”
“Maybe you did, but I’m not the cops.” Not exactly, anyway, but it
was too complicated to explain to a kid with mush for brains. “I’m just here to help find your sister. You can help me by telling me about the last time you saw her.” Which again, wasn’t entirely true - he was supposed to be checking up on the cops, not the kid, but something wasn’t quite right here and he’d sensed it the minute he’d stepped in the room.
“I just got done telling the cops.”
“You said that already.”
why repeat myself?”
Tommy Connell smiled and settled down for the long haul. I
t seemed it was his lot in life to always get the ones who had something to hide? “Humor me, kiddo, we’re on the same side.” He gestured with a sweeping hand to the interior of the small room. “Why all the books?”
“She likes to read.”
“No kidding. What about friends?”
“Molly doesn’t have friends, not regular ones
A ten year old without friends
, now that was odd. His own little guy Joe was only six, but he had friends and fellow junior trouble makers by the dozens if the sound level at his last birthday party was an indicator.
The girl gave a noncommittal shrug and the movement caused her to overbalance slightly on her stiletto heels. She attempted to correct the wobble by shuffling her feet and leaning heavily against the door frame. She was wasted. Maybe that was why the child’s disappearance hadn’t been reported sooner. Connell bit back a sharp comment. She was a kid. Kids did stupid things. He remembered doing plenty when he was her age. Difference was, he’d never mislaid a sibling while he was busy doing it.
“I dunno,” she said finally. “She’s not the friendly type. She doesn’t mix. The other kids think she’s weird.”
... you know ...” She crossed her eyes and tapped at her own head. “Crazy. They’re scared of her and it doesn’t help that she stinks.” She wrinkled her nose to add weight to her words.
Connell narrowed his eyes. Okay, maybe she
was a little odd. Who was he to judge, he’d never met the girl. But if the poor little kid smelled bad it was because she slept in a dirty bed and nobody cared enough to make sure her clothes were clean. “You don’t have a washing machine?”
He shook his head. He was wasting his time. “What about you, do you think she’s weird?” He was starting to think this whole setup was off-center. The parents were out of town, they’d left their ten year old in the care of a spaced-out teenager and hadn’t even come home when their daughter disappeared. Maybe this wasn’t unusual. Maybe little Molly regularly slipped on her sneakers and sneaked out the door.
“She’s my little sister. Of course I think she’s a freak.”
Okay, so that was a pretty normal answer. He was a little brother himself and his brother, Will, still thought that he was from another planet. Maybe he was. He’d done some pretty crazy stuff in his time. “You were the last person to see her. You need to tell me what happened.”
She stuck out her chin belligerently. “I already told the cops everything I know.”
Connell took a step towards her. He really didn’t have the time or the energy to negotiate the twists and turns of the teenage psyche. He’d just pulled an unpleasant all-nighter, following up on a pair of low-rent cops who thought it was cool to play around with the law to their own advantage. Connell didn’t agree with their philosophy and he didn’t much like all-nighters. Maybe it was time to up the ante.
“Okay. So, you’re a little distracted this morning, but just to keep you focused, here’s the deal, Lydia. It is Lydia
, isn’t it? You tell me what you argued about with your sis, you tell me what made that little girl run off into the night, or I’ll haul your ass downtown and book you for possession.”
“I thought you weren’t a cop,” she replied slyly, obviously unfazed by his threat.
“I can still make things happen that you might not enjoy.” He narrowed his eyes, gave her his don’t-mess-with-me look, which was a slightly censored version of his usual look. She was still a kid after all.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she exclaimed with exaggerated annoyance, but she took a hesitant step back nevertheless.
Everything about her behavior was over-the-top and Connell found it irritating. He’d also had about enough of it. “Fine, have it your way. Which is your room? You got your stash under your pillow?” He watched as she weighed him up slowly, realized he wasn’t kidding around and was immune to any feminine charms she might have imagined she possessed. He made to brush past her in the narrow doorway and she caught at his sleeve and stopped him.
... okay, chill out. What’s the big deal? You never smoked a little?”
He was starting to feel old and he was barely thirty. He looked pointedly at her hand on his arm and she removed it with a dramatic sigh.
“Okay, so we had a fight ... I mean I yelled at her a little bit but Molly doesn’t argue. Molly doesn’t fight back. Molly doesn’t do much of anything really.” She pulled a joint out of her pocket and stuck it between her lips. “Got a light?”
Connell shook his head in weary disbelief, pulled the weed from her mouth and dropped it to the floor, grinding it beneath his shoe.
“Hey, I had to pay for that,” she whined.
“You were telling me about Molly.”
She shrugged. “She’s a pain, always hanging around bugging me. We told her to get lost. We didn’t mean it literally but Molly takes everything literally. She sees things as black and white, right and wrong, good and evil, nothing in between. It’s all the reading she does, it’s messed with her head.”
Oh yeah, somebody’s head was definitely messed, but standing there listening to Lydia’s explanations, Connell wasn’t entirely convinced it was little Molly’s.
“She believes real life is the same as in her books - every story has a happy ending,” continued Lydia. “But life’s not like that, is it?”
It was a long speech with a measure of malice mixed in. She had issues with her baby sister. She’d also said
‘we’ not ‘I’.
“So what did you say to her?” Connell asked.
“Does it matter?”
“I think you know i
t does. We’ve got a little girl who’s been missing over twenty four hours. Everything matters.”
Lydia hesitated, bravado and fear warring for position on her pinched face. Suddenly she stopped trying to look older and looked very young. Connell cocked his head and decided to cut her a little slack.
“Look, you’re not in trouble. You want to fry your brain with drugs? Go ahead, knock yourself out. You want to have underage sex with your boyfriend? None of my business. I just need to know what was in your sister’s head when she left. Whether she intended to take off and maybe hide out to give everyone a scare, or whether someone else is involved.”